Holidays are over. Calendar flips to January. Resolutions abound. No more pizza for breakfast. Beer is not a food group. Do better. Be better.
But before you lay out Christmas coin on a health club membership or a piece of exercise equipment that’s just as likely to become a clothes rack, healthy eating guru Nancy Love-Martin has a couple of recommendations: read a label; take a walk.
“Don’t spend money on gyms and programs until you get yourself active again,” says Love-Martin, a board-certified nutritionist for almost 30 years and Outer Banks resident for more than a decade. “Do something that doesn’t cost any money. Something easy, something that you’ll stick with. And then eat right. … Start out slow, make it make sense to you, and don’t spend a bunch of money on anything but better food. If you do that, I think you’ll be a lot happier.”
For those who want to turn over a new leaf, physically and mentally, there are multiple options on the Outer Banks. Health clubs, personal trainers, active groups of all ages, a boom in yoga classes and instructors.
The YMCA in Nags Head has upwards of 80 exercise classes, both aquatic and land-based, in areas such as strength training, cycling, Pilates, Zumba, yoga and hip-hop dance. The staff works with young and old to assess their capabilities and goals. The workout room provides computer-generated fitness programs tailored to specific results, or people can use the equipment at their leisure. There are racquetball courts, and the gym houses pickleball sessions, as well as pick-up and league basketball. They have daycare onsite so that infants and toddlers are supervised and cared for while parents work out.
YMCA Wellness Coordinator Jenna Wienert understands that some people are intimidated about group exercise in a large facility, particularly if they’ve never worked out or have lapsed over an extended period.
“Not everybody wants the same thing or needs the same thing,” Wienert says. “We’re not going out to the parking lot and drag them in, but once they are willing to come through the door, we’re here for them. If they’re willing to take the time to talk with us, we can share that there are a lot of different things to help them out.”
The Outer Banks Sports Club in Nags Head has approximately 1,000 members, ranging from bodybuilders and triathletes to retirees whose goal is to remain fit and strong enough to fish. The club has a variety of classes in areas such as body sculpting, muscular and strength training, cycling and aerobics, as well as what they call Silver Fitness — a mostly chair-bound workout designed for older adults.
“When people come in the front door they have a different vision of what they’re going to be and what they’re going to do,” OBSC General Manager Jim Snyder says. “We offer a large selection of things, that people enjoy so they’ll keep coming.”
Trainers and staff work one-on-one with clients to design fitness programs that include exercise, nutrition and positive reinforcement. Programs adjust constantly, based on results.
“My life mission is to help people and (help them) get fit,” says Snyder, sitting in his office one December morning a few steps from the main workout room. “Going into that room there is the Fountain of Youth. It is. You’ll feel better and look better. … I get up in the morning and say, I can make a difference in somebody’s life. This is a tool and environment to be able to do that.”
Tools, environments and options for fitness and wellness are critical in a society with rising obesity, increased stress and a pace of life that often doesn’t lend itself to good personal choices.
Several recent unrelated studies provide results that are both sobering and encouraging. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in November that the life expectancy of Americans continues to decline, down a tick to an average of 78.6 years. Death rates for people aged 25-34 increased almost 3 percent in 2017 and 1.6 percent for those aged 35-44.
Heart disease and cancer were the leading causes of death, but there were big jumps in what the CDC calls “unintentional injuries” — a category that includes drug overdoses, which rose a whopping 10 percent in 2017 — and suicides, which increased 3.7 percent over 2016.
Meanwhile, Harvard University’s Grant and Glueck study tracked two separate groups of men over 75 years to gauge their physical and emotional well-being. One group consisted of 456 inner city men growing up in Boston from 1939-2014, the other 268 Harvard graduates from 1939-1944.
Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, says in Inc. magazine: “The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” He went on to say, “It’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship. It’s the quality of your close relationships that matter.” George Vaillant, a Harvard psychiatrist who directed the study for 32 years, says that there are two key takeaways from their findings: “One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”
For those less inclined toward sweating and straining as a means of improvement or who want to supplement physical workouts, there are options, as well.
Michelle Dorer, the 38-year-old owner and director of Ashtanga Yoga, one of the island’s oldest studios, says that finding balance is critical — balance between personal and professional, activity and contemplation, a balanced diet, adequate sleep.
“It’s a method to bring inner stillness, because only with inner stillness can you feel peace in yourself,” she says. “A lot of it is about teaching people to slow down and actually take care of ourselves again, and actually pay attention to the signals and messages that we’re getting from our bodies and our minds and our emotional beings, and actually tending to it, instead of hearing it and treating it as an inconvenience and pushing through it and just keep running.”
Dorer teaches traditional yoga, with an emphasis on deep breathing while stretching. Breathing helps to oxygenate the blood, while stretching increases flexibility and releases muscle tension.
“It will make you more sensitive to what you eat and you will start to change,” Dorer says. “What you learn is that food isn’t all about taste. It’s about nutrients, it’s about actually getting nutrients. But when you start to feel your body again and pay attention to your body again, you will actually start caring about what you eat and what you put in your body.”
Which is Love-Martin’s message, as well. Cut back on fat, on sodium, on processed foods and sugar. Starvation and fad diets, she says, are often more harmful than helpful. Spend a few extra bucks on better food. Cover all food groups. Understand that when you eat something can be just as important as what you eat.
“If you still need help, that’s why I’m here,” she says. Love-Martin measures basal metabolic rates and body composition. She downplays weight and calorie intake, and she emphasizes how foods react biochemically within the body. At age 68, she remains passionate about her work and committed to her clients, but hers is not a hard-sell approach. She interviews and dives deeply into potential clients’ eating habits and lifestyles. She presents them with information and then gives them time and space to decide if her program is right for them.
“I tell everybody, what I teach may not be right for you, but never stop looking,” she says. “Search for what’s right for you. If you’re not comfortable with it, if you’re doing something and gritting your teeth, whether it’s how you eat or how you exercise, you’re going to get dissuaded from that pretty darn quick.”